Monthly Archives: July 2007

The eighth circle of hell

I spent a good portion of my day cleaning my house. My mother, step-father, sister and two nephews arrive tomorrow morning. They’ll be staying here for three days, which will no doubt necessitate a complete re-cleaning as my nephews are two and a half and seven months old. My house is not really a dirty place. It gets a bit cluttered at times, but I vacuum, mop, dust, etc. fairly regularly. Today though, I went a little crazy. I pulled up every appliance and canister in the kitchen and 409’d every square inch of counter surface. I got down on my hands and knees in the laundry room to make sure the area around the cat food bowls wasn’t harboring any food residue. I made my husband vacuum everything, even the living room which he just cleaned a few days ago. I scrubbed the guest bathtub, even though the only time it gets used is when we bathe our sun and he never actually touches the tub—his baby tub sits nicely in it and just empties fairly clean water into the tub instead.


I’m not really sure why I did all of this. I’m sure my mom’s house is never this clean. She’s never been a fan of cleaning. Even when she was a stay at home mom, as soon as my sister and I were able to do chores, she had us running the vacuum, mopping the floors and doing our own laundry. Vacuuming the stairs was the worst chore as I hated lugging that stupid hoover up and down those stairs.


Most people would probably attribute my date with Mr. Clean to a need to impress my mother. After all, it’s the first time she’s been to my house. I’ve lived here for nearly two years now, but she’s never set foot in my neighborhood. Actually, she hasn’t even set foot in the state in 15 years. I should probably point out that in the last 15 years, I have seen my mother exactly three times, once at my grandfather’s funeral (15 years ago), once when I went to visit friend’s in San Diego and spent the night at her place (10 years ago) and once when I spent an entire week in California, half of it with her and half with my sister and brother-in-law (5 years ago). I should also add that in the last 15 years, I have graduated from both high school and college, gotten married twice, had a major invasive surgery that put me out of work for a month, bought a new home and had a baby, all of which took place right here.


I think my cleaning spree can be blamed more on nerves than a need to impress. Until I actually saw my mother at my grandmother’s house on Sunday, I didn’t believe she’d set foot in the state again until my grandmother’s funeral. However, we pulled into my grandmother’s driveway at 11:39 on Sunday morning to find my step-father and oldest nephew playing in the front yard. I sucked in more than a little air. Soon after, I saw my mother. She hasn’t changed much in five years and she hugged me as if we’d just seen each other last week. I introduced her to my husband and her grandson and it was odd when she immediately grabbed my husband for a hug too. Luckily we didn’t have to make too much small talk as we had lunch reservations for 12:30 and the place was 20 minutes away. We rode in my grandmother’s car, as she always wants the man to drive the caddy.


Lunch was an experience. None of us really got to talk much, despite being at the restaurant for over an hour and a half. The bulk of the conversation was carried by my step-dad and my  husband. My mom and sister spent most of their efforts feeding the baby and trying to wrangle the two year old into his chair. I tried to distract my grandmother with talk of my kid and my upcoming return to work so she wouldn’t get too irritated with the constant loop my nephew was doing around the table yelling “mine, mine,” or the repeated threats from my mom to take him out to the car if he didn’t start behaving. He never did and neither did she.


When we got back to the house, the boys took naps and there was a little time to talk. Mostly we talked about the housing prices, the boys being out of sorts due to lack of sleep and their trip back home. Nothing of any sort of substance. My grandmother hardly said anything. I think she was still overwhelmed from the dining experience. Either that or she couldn’t really hear us. She is getting old and even when I was sitting right next to her at the restaurant, she kept asking me to repeat myself. Then again, her hearing might have been hindered by the whooping of my nephew as he completed yet another lap.


My nerves about my mom’s arrival tomorrow have nothing to do with whether or not my house will be clean enough. Nor are they connected to what she’ll think of the life I lead inside the house. If I was really looking for any sort of life affirmation from her, I’d hide my Buffy DVD’s, Harry Potter books and the boy’s beer and start placing Bible conspicuously in every room. I’ve managed to get by pretty darn ok these last 19 years without her approval, so I can’t imagine a sudden criticism of my video choice or reading material to send me into tears or apologies.


No, my nerves are more about what is going to be said and done in the 72 or so hours she will be inhabiting my house. Things between my mom and me, much like her mom and her, would be best if we stuck only to pleasantries. Discussions among us should probably not delve any deeper than the weather or food likes and dislikes. That’s where most of our commonalities end. See, I have this fear, that my mom is going to say something and bring up 19 years of hostility in me and I won’t be able to hold back. It’s easy to do when she’s 1000 miles away, but when she’s in the same room, I’m not sure how I’ll handle it. So far we’ve managed to dance around issues of neglect, but only with some real restraint on my part. On my first trip back to California, I overheard her telling my great aunt that when I ran away from home, she prayed long and hard about it and God told her to just let me go. I’m guessing that was her way of justifying turning her back on me from the time I was 14 until a few month shy of my 18th birthday. I had to walk outside and pace the small rose garden to keep myself from screaming at her. I didn’t run away, I moved in with my dad because she and I weren’t getting along and I was miserable. And I don’t care what message you think you are getting from God, you don’t ignore a 14 year old kid, especially one who is obviously hurting and confused. You certainly don’t refuse to let her have any contact with her younger sister, tear up her letters, return her gifts or tell everyone, including her sister, she was a run away.


On a daily basis, I can let go of any anger and resentment I have toward my mom. I want her to have a relationship with my son, even if it is mostly via email and the phone. For the most part, I think I did ok. My dad is a good man and what she failed to give me, he and the rest of his family made up for in spades. Still, when confronted with her face to face, especially when she pretends we have a normal mother daughter relationship, it’s hard to hold back. Keep your fingers crossed for me, I think I may really need it these next few days.

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It’s bad luck to hurt your parents on their anniversary, right?

Tomorrow is my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary. Well, it’s not actually tomorrow. It’s technically on Tuesday, but who throws a party on a Tuesday? And when I say my parents, what I actually mean is my dad and step-mom, but they’ve been married since I was seven and I see my step-mom way more often than my real mom, so I generally refer to them as my parents and my mom and step-dad as, well, my mom and step-dad. Actually, I don’t usually refer to my step-dad at all. It’s not that I dislike him. Not anymore. I just feel sort of blah about him. If he’s there, fine. If he’s not, that’s fine too.


Sometime during my teenage years, I remember my step-mom getting rather excited that she and my dad were getting ready to celebrate their anniversary. I didn’t realize what the hub bub was all about since they didn’t really seem to do much in celebration. Then I found out she was happy their marriage had lasted longer than his marriage to my mom. Not that it was hard to do, my mom got pregnant with me exactly three months after they were married and they split up before I finished kindergarten. The sixth or seventh anniversary generally isn’t a mile stone, but for her, I think it was a sense of permanence. She felt secure in her marriage. I guess she was right since we’ll all be donning our party hats and pigging out on lasagna and cake tomorrow in their honor. Interestingly, both of my actual parents’ second marriages have managed to last a heck of a lot longer than their firsts. I think my mom and step-dad are on anniversary 26 or 27.


Now granted, this is my dad’s second marriage, but it’s my step-mom’s first. And anyway you look at it, I think making it 25 years with the same person, even if the road has been filled with potholes designed to swallow you whole, is no small feat. So, with a little prompting from my aunt (who reminded me it was their 25th), I decided to throw them a party.


That’s when the problems started. Getting information out of either of my parents is a painful process. Neither of them can make a decision. A surprise party was out of the question. I live two hours away and no one in my family can keep a secret. Planning would be a nightmare as I’d have to have it somewhere other than my parent’s house. So, I figured I’d let them decide on the kind of party we had. I gave them several options from a casual dinner with just the family to a more formal dinner consisting of multiple courses, to a giant blow out with all of their friends. A week went by….nothing. When the end of the second week approached, I emailed again. Three days later I got a reply from her. A simple party, just family, casual dinner. Great! I sent her a choice of three menus, all simple, all tasty and all that I was ready to prepare. She chose one. Perfect! I thought I’d be cute and send out invitations. Done!


Then my dad emailed me. Instead of doing the dinner I’d planned, he wanted me to throw some Italian beef in a slow cooker and have some chips and dip. Now, I like making my dad happy and his intention was to make things easier on me, but I don’t know how to make Italian beef. I know what he’s talking about. It’s a dish that used to grace nearly every family get together back when my grandma was alive. It’s fine for a lunch or a potluck, but I don’t know how to make it the way she did. I do, however, know how to make a damn good lasagna, so I stuck with it.


Everything was in motion. I had a great idea for the cake. All I had to do was go shopping. Then my dad emailed me. He wanted to move dinner earlier so that when we finished he could invite friends over for drinks and snacks…the party I had originally suggested and tried to get them to let me throw. So, I email everyone about he earlier dinner hour. I made a list of all the extra things we’d need to accommodate the snacking hours.


Today I started the preparation. The cake was the first item on the agenda. I was trying so hard to keep it quiet since the baby was napping, that I got the steps out of order and things did not get mixed as they should. Then in the process of checking it to see if it was done, feeding him and talking to my aunt, the cake not only got undercooked, but also caved in on me. I had to throw it away and start over. This was not a cake from a nice little mix by Betty Crocker. This was a from scratch cake, so I had to pull all the ingredients out and begin anew. The second one came out perfect. The house smelled of freshly baked chocolate cake. It was lovely. Then, we headed to the store to get all the items for the evening. We were in the check out lane and all was going great. Then my dad called.


Despite the fact that this party is my anniversary present to them, he went ahead and bought all the snacks and drinks for the after party. I looked at my cart full of groceries. The prospect of putting things back was daunting and my baby was getting hungry. Since we are having house guests next week, I figured we’d have a canapé dinner one night and just let it go. We hadn’t gotten any booze aside from beer as I’d forgotten to ask my folks what they wanted, so at least I was spared that expense.


We piled everything into the car and headed for home. I’ve finished the spinach dip which needs to set up and my husband is currently working on the peach frozen custard. Part of me keeps waiting for the phone to ring with yet another change, but it’s his anniversary party, so I guess I won’t complain too much. Plus, I won’t have to throw another one of these things until their 50th or so, and by then he probably won’t care what I do, as long as I bring pudding!

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Madame Esmeralda reveals all

Straight from the pages of my travel journal: Day 2


The first adventure was actually surviving the Adventure Inn,* and we have almost done it! All I have to do is shower and we can throw the keys at the front desk and run like hell towards today’s adventure at the House on the Rock.


After a brief stop off at Kohl’s for jammie bottoms, we gleefully left Gurnee and Illinois for much greener pastures. We hit Milwaukee around 11:30 and found a safe house to rest in without blowing our cover. Nancee struggled getting in, but I punched the clock to reveal the hallway behind the bookcase. The food was totally average, but the ambiance was great. We had our own tiny booth set off by beaded curtains. We explored a Russian spy area that included a tiny prison, a piece of the Berlin Wall and a network of tubes carrying messages to headquarters.


Next we made our way to the House on the Rock—or as Eee liked to call it, the House on the Hill. It was much bigger than I remember. We spent three hours exploring. The house itself was still a major throwback to the 60’s, but the new nautical room with the 204 foot sculpture of a whale fighting a giant squid was both dizzying and impressive. The giant carousel was beautifully hideous. Some of the animals on it are terrifying, more the stuff of nightmares than childhood wonder. I found out it be ridden because the foundation cannot hold people. The dollhouse room was also impressive. Since I always wanted a dollhouse when I was a kid, this was actually the stuff of my childhood fantasies. I couldn’t help but wonder where a man who had no wife or children got so many dollhouses. I think it’s really more of a collection to have a collection. So many items in the house seemed odd and while not out of place, not exactly in it either.


Before leaving, we had our fortunes told by Esmeralda on the Streets of Yesteryear. Here’s mine: “You have a special aptitude for the fine arts. Love to beautify the home. Will have a long life and are capable of filling lofty positions. Have a gentle, straightforward nature, very quick temper, strong will power that will accomplish anything you undertake. Fond of solitude and serious studies. A good, commanding nature, and always dreaming of riches. You will have considerable property many times, which will be taken from you repeatedly. You will travel a great deal. You will have few brothers and sisters, and will probably marry an artist or one who works on the stage. Curb your temper and conserve your health. One of your lucky numbers is 12. Drop another coin in the slot and maybe my next prophecy will suit you better.” **


We finally found a clean hotel room where we’ll be staying for two nights. It was such a relief to not smell mold, feel a wet floor or just feel uncomfortable in our own room. I’m also quite glad the walls here aren’t glowing. Sometimes it’s nice to be covered in good ol’ American comfort! We even felt safe getting in the pool since there were no warnings against open sores and diseases. I’m guessing the clientele here are a little more discrete about their health problems.


*I found out how to put links in without giving the entire address, so I thought I’d give you lots of them!

**Let’s ponder the accuracy of this prophecy. I do appreciate the arts. I like pretty things in my home, although I don’t like putting much effort into keeping it too clean. Keeping my fingers crossed on the life thing. I’m not sure how gentle I am, but I’m straightforward, temperamental. Unfortunately, my will power sucks. I don’t like solitude much. Don’t really dream of riches except in that way that we all do. The property thing is interesting…can anyone say Florida? I have traveled a bit and with a mother-in-law who’s a travel agent, hope to do more. Only one half sister. Married a singer songwriter the first time around and a drummer the second. I probably do need to curb my temper. I’m not sure how I feel about the number 12 though.

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We’ve all come to look for Americana

My family is slightly nomadic. While growing up in Southern California, I attended seven different schools (1-8) in four separate towns. We lived in Anaheim the longest, but even there we bounced around from apartment to apartment. I’m not really sure why we moved so often. I chalk it up to a certain sense of wanderlust. This same wanderlust must have been one of the only things my parents had in common during their brief marriage. For despite having nothing nice to say about each other, they both share an unhealthy love for all things penguin as well as a desire to hit the open road for the quintescential American vacation: the road trip.


Each summer when school let out, one set of parents would pack us up and take us to visit some part of this great nation: DC, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and of course, my personal favorite vacation, Wisconsin.


When I was 10, my dad, step-mom, aunt, uncle, cousin and I set off in two vehicles to explore the great state of Wisconsin, or rather, about a 60 mile area of it. During this trip some amazing things happened. We discovered a McDonald’s that was part of the test market for McPizza. My father, who would eat either pizza or Triscuits and sharp cheddar for every meal, was thrilled. It turned out McPizza was really a tarted up English muffin, but the fact he could get pizza, no matter how bad, at McDonald’s, just seemed to tickle my dad. This patrons of this same McDonald’s had the honor of watching my uncle have a melt down in the parking lot that included more cursing than most R-rated movies and the hurling of a half-filled coffee mug when his car wouldn’t start. He ended up getting it towed, and since it was the first day of vacation, we had plenty of time to get it fixed. Unfortunately, that left six people to ride in my dad’s pick-up truck. My dad, uncle and three year old cousin rode up front. My aunt, step-mom and I rode in the back. This wouldn’t have been so bad, since it was a covered truck, except that my dad, a horrible pack-rat of a fireman decided to leave all his fire gear* in the bed of the truck, just in case, and so we were forced to sit Indian style right in a row the entire trip. Even at 10, my knees were touching the tailgate.


After the swearing stopped, we headed off to Circus World Museum in lovely Baraboo. I think it was originally the winter grounds for the Ringling Brothers’ Circus. Even as a kid this seemed dumb to me. Of all the places in this country to be in the winter, Wisconsin, which gets even more snow than Indiana seems a bad choice for people who don’t have permenant housing. I don’t remember much about the place except there were giant circus train cars like the ones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, only minus the dangerous animals who once inhabited them. There were also circus acts under the brightly striped tent. Mostly human, but I have a hazy image of some elephants being paraded around.


We spent another day in the Dells. For a kid, this has some real entertainment potential. Even twenty years ago before the theme parks with ginormous Trojan horses sprung up and water parks littered every corner, there were all sorts of amusements only kids really enjoy. I, however, got to go to none of them. My dad and uncle wanted to go to the Ducks and only the Ducks. It was part of reliving their childhood. Now, the Ducks were cool. I mean we drove straight off the trail and into the water without a hitch, and the tour around the rock formations was interesting, but it was also long, with pretty much only rocks and trees to look at.


One of the highlights of the trip came near the end. We ventured out of the Dells area and headed for The House on the Rock. As a kid it both terrified and mesmerized me. I won’t go in to any lengthy description as you can read about entering the mouth of madness on two of my friends sites ( or, but it left a lasting impression on me. So lasting, in fact, that when Nancee and I decided we wanted to take a tour of Americana last summer, it was one of the first places I suggested.


It was not, sadly, the first stop on our trip though. During our seven day tour of the Mid-West, Eee and I actually toured five states. Before we left we poured over travel books in the once cool Borders café**. We found tons that we really wanted to do, unfortunately, several great places like the Lizzy Borden bed and breakfast and the medical curiosities museum were rather far away and wouldn’t get us to a few key places we really wanted to go. So, with our itinerary set, all our destinations carefully Mapquested and a car full of snacks, we set off on July 5, 2006 for Chicago.


We both decided to keep travel journals, and it’s a good thing we did, as I’ll be drawing on mine to describe our first day on the road. The Illinois toll road was hell like usual, but once we hit Armitage Street, I was happy. Armitage is a great area to shop. It’s not as busy as Michigan Avenue, but the shops are unique and most importantly, they have a LUSH. They also have a kick-ass café about two doors down one of the side roads called the Alahmabra, or Aladdin or something else exotic sounding with an Al that has really good food and turns into a hookah bar at night. They also have a really neat chocolate shop that is far too pink for my taste that sells really good gourmet truffles and chocolates. Pricey, but tasty.


Our next stop was the Leaning Tower of Niles. It has a much larger cousin over in Italy you may have heard of. It’s either a 1/12 or a 1/16 scale model of it. It sits right next to the Boys’ and Girls’ club in the middle of a town, but it was actually pretty cool. It was peaceful to sit near the bubbling water pool and look at the tower. Surprisingly serene considering all the traffic on the road.


We wanted to go to a mortuary that also has a death-themed mini-golf course, but apparently you have to make reservations months in advance. The travel book said nothing about this, so instead we stopped at a roadside farm. Eee was foolish enough to try to feed the goats, but I knew better. As predicted, they tried to climb her for her tiny pellets. I warned her, I did. I know the viscousness of goats, but she was deaf to my pleas.


After a long day of driving and odd sight seeing, we were ready to settle in to our hotel. When picking hotels, we specifically looked for hotels with little quirks. The Adventure Inn, located in Gurnee, was definitely quirky. It was also dirty, smoky, dark, creepy, dangerous and possibly contaminated. The pictures do not do this place justice. It was foul. Both Eee and I were afraid to get under the covers. I was positive I was going to move the mattress to find a dead hooker hidden in the box springs. Or at least some unidentifiable stains on the sheets. I’m sure someone could have had a field day in there with one of those black lights, expect the whole thing was lit with black lights, so they probably wouldn’t have been able to distinguish one horrible item from the next. We both slept fully clothed and wrapped in the covers we brought from home to avoid actual contact with the bed. Neither of us took our socks off the entire stay because the carpet was spongy. Not the good kind of spongy you get with expensive plush carpeting. The bad kind of spongy that is more akin to movie theater floors. I was pretty sure if my bare feet touched it I would instantly contract seven different types of fungus. The room smelled a bit like urine to me, but that could have been some strange construction smell drifting in from the work that was still being done at 10:30 on a Wednesday night. There was no window that actually opened***, so we couldn’t yell out it to them to knock it off. Not that we would have. I think we might have been the only guests since the whole place seemed to be undergoing a major overhaul. I’m sure no one would have noticed our bodies for months.


To escape the layer of smoke that permeated the room, we took a detour to the mall. We thought we might find something decent to eat at the food court, but the healthiest I could find was a hot dog and some bland overcooked veggies at the Panda Wok Giant Eggroll Express (or some such nonsense). We saw The Devil Wears Prada at the theater in the mall, but were so depressed at how dirty and run down the mall seemed, that the knowledge we would have to go back to our darker, even grimier room dampened our enjoyment a bit.


When we returned, we briefly considered going for a dip in the pool until we saw the oily sheen on top of it. The sign that advised us not to swim if we had open sores or wounds hastened our retreat. There was a hot tub in our room and while we photographed ourselves sitting on the edge of it (on top of the towels), neither of us actually got in it for fear of hepatitis. Our room, like all the rooms was themed. We went for the Gotham City room. The overall ickyness of the place killed most of our joy of finding this place online. You can check out any of the rooms at ( )****. They are actually referred to as “fantasy suites,” although I can’t believe anyone would find the place romantic. The abundance of black lights alone should cause sterility. The thought of people actually choosing the place for anything other than cheesy bragging rights is amazing. The work in the hallway didn’t stop until at least 11:30, but by that point we were laughing too hard at the situation and the Spanish soap opera on TV called Infarto.


All in all, an interesting start to one of the best road trips in my life. I did put an important note in my journal that I think everyone should take to heart: Never come to Gurnee again.


*Interestingly, there was a drowning and since my dad is a certified diver, he actually was asked to help while we were there, so all the gear was put to use.


**Borders used to have an independent café with yummy honey vanilla chai. Now that have a sucky Seattle’s Best stand with nothing tasty.


***We later found out there was a window, but the plastic Gotham skyline had been placed over it.


****Take the time, click the link, I swear it is worth it. The rooms are amazing to look at. We saw several of them open while we were packing up the next morning. I’m not sure why as no cleaning appeared to have taken place in our room. I can only guess they were being let by the hour for hookers or drug dealers. Note the plastic Gotham landscape not far from the TV, this should have been our window.

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Chuck E. Cheese, where I still rule!

Tonight I ventured where no sane adult should even tread: Chuck E. Cheese. As much as I love the game of ski ball, mediocre pizza and giant animatronic animals, none of these drew me here. I went because every time my mother-in-law comes to visit, she repeatedly hounds my husband and I to “help out more” with his nephews and niece. She harps on us throughout each visit to invite the eldest to spend the night, take the middle one to the zoo or offer to babysit and give them a night out. The last time we offered to take the kids off their hands so they could have a date night, somehow it got turned in to my husband taking his brother and the eldest somewhere. The plans we make always get changed, and somehow, we always end up waiting on them, sometimes hours past our initial offer to help out. So excursions like tonight take a real effort.


Chuck E. Cheese was actually my idea. I have wonderful childhood memories of birthday parties spent pigging out on cake and collecting enough ski ball tickets to actually get a non-plastic crap prize. I actually used to save my tickets up over the course of several visits to get the good stuff. Back then, Chuck E. Cheese had three different rooms, all filled with Chuck E. and his friends moving their metallic lips in ways that almost resembled the songs being sung. There was a ball pit and a moon bounce. There was a whole row of Whack-A-Mole machines. There was a dark secret tunnel with day-glo paint on the ceiling which wound through most of the building. Actually, the whole place was a little dark. There was a room just for parties. A room with all the video games and ski ball machines and a separate room for the huge ball vat and bounce house. The tunnel connected them.


The modern mouse has let me down a little. There was only one giant room and it was astoundingly bright. All the games were pushed in to the center of the room, with tables walling them in. Only Mr. Cheese was robotic and the nearly two hours we were there, he only came on twice. The party tables were so close to the regular booths that the party which came in well after us kept bumping in to us every five seconds. The pizza, was much better than I expected. While not the best I’ve had in Indy by far, it was also on par with Pizza Hut. Thanks to a coupon from my Zoo book, we got 50 free tokens, so pizza and drinks for three along with a pile of gold tokens cost just over $20. The games definitely catered to the kids, not like the ones even adults liked at the place in its heyday. Only the ski ball and basketball toss held any real appeal to those over ten. The air hockey table looked momentarily tempting until I realized I would have had to play on my knees. There weren’t even any good video games like the Pac Man and Centipede machines of my childhood. The tickets are still exchangeable for the multitude of cheap trinkets kids lose five minutes after they win them, but they do have cool ticket counters that suck the tickets up and make a crunching sound as if they are being eaten. Definitely an improvement on having to stand in front of the counter counting, only to lose my place for the third time and start all over.


After a few pitches up the ski ball ramp, I was pleased to see I still had it. I wasn’t quite as good as in my heyday when I could throw an entire game of 50’s, but I did rack up a 370, so that made me happy. Back in my day they didn’t have the elusive 100 slots that nearly every ball bounces out of. They are the suckers bet in my opinion. If you miss going for a 50, you’re still likely to get a 30 or 40, a small difference, but if you miss the 100, as you are almost certain to, you get a 10 and that stinks. I play the straight and narrow and aim it right down the center. Like I said, I’m not as good as I was in my youth, but I did throw one game of only 40’s and 50’s. More importantly I beat my nephew at every game. The little fool kept aiming for the 100’s and only got it once out of the 10 games he played. My 11 tokens won over half the tickets, which just shows that I still rule Chuck E. Cheese!

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The reason I hate Florida

My sister emailed me some rather upsetting news today. Apparently my great aunt, who is 93, blacked out in her living room and took a spill. Her fall landed her in the hospital for four days where she heard her carotid arteries are blocked. This was not a surprise really, for as long as I can remember, I’ve heard her talk of the blockage. The last time I saw her in person, they were 80% blocked. I’m not sure what it’s at now, as we aren’t on speaking terms and I’m sure my cousin, who gave my grandmother the news, who passed it on to my mother, who gave it to my sister to tell me, never thought to ask. My great aunt isn’t speaking to very many people in the family.


Until I moved to Florida, I was among the few people she actually liked. I’m sure she spoke badly about me behind my back as she did every other person she shares a kinship with, but since I actually visited her, and always cooked, cleaned and “yes ma’amed” her, I think I gave her little fodder. That is, no doubt, why she invited us to move to Florida to live rent free in her apartment building. In exchange for not having to make out monthly checks, we would serve as property managers and fix the place up. The building, which houses five one bedroom apartments, is located right next to the oldest inn in America. In fact, people would often show up on our doorstep, thinking we were the inn. Once a couple actually walked into my apartment and seemed offended when I told them they needed to walk a few more steps. They never even apologized.


I have fond memories of the home from my childhood. It was beautiful. The grape arbor in the backyard always had grapes ready to be plucked off and popped into my mouth. There was a darling bench to sit on near the flowers at the end of the little path that led to the back gate. The other apartments weren’t rented then. My aunt and uncle kept them for company, so it was fun to hang out in the back hallway and climb under the half door that led to the kitchen. By the time we moved in though, the backyard resembled a jungle, the grape arbor was splintered and overgrown, and there were palmetto bugs (read HUGE flying cockroaches) everywhere. All the other apartments had not only been rented, but the downstairs, which was always meant to be one residence, had been turned into two with only a thin stained glass door between them. It was not only possible to hear our neighbor’s TV, but to see some of the objects in her miniscule living room/kitchen.


To make matters worse, my great aunt who I’d always gotten along with turned out to be impossible to live near. The first week we lived in the apartment, we pissed her off. My husband started it by reaching for the door handle and putting his hand through the glass door. My aunt appeared to be very concerned which seemed normal until I realized her concern was for who would pay for the replacement glass. We did. Our next mistake was asking to have a phone in the apartment. There were a few jacks in the house but we soon learned they were actually all connected to our neighbor’s phone. Since the downstairs was originally a single unit, only three lines were put into the building. When we explained that we needed a phone, my aunt could not understand, since when she had lived there, she’d had a working phone. After days of going back and forth, we got our phone and a hefty bill of $110 for the privilege of talking to the outside world. We also found out that first week that the air conditioner was broken (in the middle of June), the sink was completely backed up, and almost all of the windows either didn’t open or had no screens, so we were stuck in a hot apartment with a horrible odor emanating from the kitchen. She couldn’t understand why the sink, which she hadn’t used in twenty years, was backed up. She insisted I pour baking soda down it. When the Roto-Rooter guy told her that would actually gunk up the pipes, she waved her hand at him, telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about. She did that to professionals a lot.


Over the next few months my aunt got mad at me for buying a car without asking her first. It didn’t matter that I got it from the dealership she uses, or that it was the exact same make and model as hers, just a few years younger, or that I picked it because she’d be able to ride in it comfortably. I didn’t ask first, so she was mad. I angered her further by getting my hair cut without telling her. I’m not sure if it was the actual length that offended or the fact I didn’t first query her to find out who gives her her monthly perms before I did the deed. I nearly brought down the entirety of her wrath because I wouldn’t quitting teaching, the profession I spent over $20,000 of my own money to get licensed for and had been doing happily for nearly 7 years to go into real estate so I wouldn’t have to grade as many papers and could spend more time cleaning up her house for her. When I told her I couldn’t come over the exact time she wanted me to due to a teacher’s meeting, she threw a fit and actually threw the fact that I didn’t change professions to suit her in my face as one of my personal failings.


What finally sealed my fate in the hurricane state was not any of this though. It was day I gave her a heart attack. Never mind the fact that she was 91 years old or had already had a previous heart attack. My stubborn refusal to quit my job and wait on her hand and foot was the reason her heart started palpitating. She started telling anyone who came within five feet of her room this story the night we sat in the ER with her for three and a half hours. Over the course of the next four days, she stuck strongly to her story, even when her family doctor and cardiologist insisted it was her previous heart condition and her blocked arteries that landed her between the starched white sheets. She looked them both straight in the eye and told them they were wrong. After all, she’d never had a heart attack before, no matter what either of them, or her records said. My ungrateful attitude was the cause of her suffering and no one was going to argue with her. When her doctor made the mistake of telling her she couldn’t take some of her vitamin supplements because they would react with her needed medications, she fired her on the spot, after five years of being under her care, and replaced her with the son of her vitamin sales woman. My aunt, is not a woman to be reasoned with.


This is where my problem lies. A part of me wants to send my aunt a card, telling her how sorry I am that she is not feeling well. I know she mistreated me and misrepresented her expectations to me, but she’s old and while I never want to be close to her or even really involved in her life again, I also don’t want her to be sick and hurting. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that if I actually send the card, she’ll think I’m trying to worm my way back into her affections, and more importantly to her, her will. I know as soon as she opens it, I will be vilified to those few family members who still converse with her and I’m sure many of them will tell her what she wants to hear, “you’re absolutely right, she’s after your money.” I want nothing more from my aunt and while it shouldn’t matter to me if she abuses me further to distant relatives I’ll probably never have to see, I’m torn. I don’t want to give her the satisfaction of thinking she is right yet again, and that I am money grubbing like so many of the others around her. And, to be honest, I don’t want her thinking my card is a note of surrender or an apology. I just don’t want an old woman to be alone and sick, even if she’s brought her isolation on herself.  


Filed under life as a teacher, my childhood, my crazy family, ramblings, what makes me me

Harry Potter and the leaked secrets

Tonight the adventure ends. What started as a way to pass the time in Eee’s apartment one weekend eight years or so ago, has finally resolved itself in the comfort of the marshmallow chair in the living room of my own house. It’s odd that the anticipation I felt yesterday as I checked the mailbox for the 400th time, is over in little more than 24 hours. Even odder to know it will never happen again. At least not that exact sense of excitement. I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The book itself was what I wanted it to be. All the mysteries explained, plots woven together and the fate of all the characters, which has been hanging so precariously in the balance, has been revealed. And even though it came out pretty much like I thought it would, I can’t help but feel a pang of sadness knowing the only way I will ever see these literary friends of mine again is if I go back and reread their stories. The problem with that though, is that I already know how those end. There are no more surprises, and in a sense, no more magic in my muggly world.


Although I am a rather voracious reader, I haven’t been attached to a set of characters or a series of stories this way since I was a child. While there are plenty of books I enjoy and characters who I connect with, the world of Harry, Hermione and Ron has been so compelling to me that as I reread the fifth and sixth books in preparation for the movie and the last book, I found myself once again crying over the loss of characters I loved. I don’t remember the last grown up book I cried over. Even the serials I loved as a child did not inspire the sheer love and emotion of Ms. Rowling’s work. She created something magical, and while I realize that is a poor word to chose given the subject of her books, it’s the only one that fits. I’m not, of course, talking about the much debated subject matter of magic, wizards and witches, but of the simple joy they inspire in readers across the globe. The joy of reading. The intrigue of a good story. The love and hatred of characters, who seem more like friends. As an English teacher, I’ve seen few books that have been able to instill a love of reading in kids the way the Harry Potter series has. To me, the way it has touched students, and brought a love and interest back to reading, is as amazing as the stories themselves.


Which is why, it pisses me off that some people, much like Ms. Rowling’s dementors, seem determined to suck all the fun and magic out of something so wonderful. I’m speaking, of course, of the spoilers. I’m not talking about people who find out hints or even the entire plot of the book for their own satisfaction. There are many people who have never read the books and never plan to, but who have watched the movies or know enough of the story who want to know how it ends for their own satisfaction. I’m fine with this. I’ve never been a skip to the end of the book kind of girl, but that’s because for me what good is the ending if you have no idea about the journey to get there. The people who find out this information and feel it is their duty to spread it as quickly as possible, thereby ruining the enjoyment of people who do want to take the journey themselves, really, really anger me.


Two years ago, after the sixth book came out, one of my seniors was talking rather loudly about the ending. She wanted to make a purse to carry around school that proclaimed which character had died. She thought it would be really funny, especially when she went over to the middle school. I told her I couldn’t keep her from making it, but if she brought it into my classroom, I would throw it away. I know, not exactly professional, but it infuriated me. She didn’t care about the books; that’s fine. But the fact that she wanted to ruin the books for those who did care was beyond understanding to me. Why destroy something people love for no other reason than to destroy it?


As a kid I moved around a lot. In the 13 years I was in school (K-12), I went to nine different schools. I was pudgy. I had bright red Sally Jessie glasses. I wore Goodwill clothes. I lived in dodgy apartments. I was smart and liked by teachers. And, I was the new kid for nine years. Mary Poppins comforted me when my parents fought over the phone in fourth grade. Anne breaking a slate over the head of Gilbert made the taunting of the boys easier to take at sixth grade camp. Meg, Joe, Amy and Beth helped me to transition into junior high school. This is why Harry and his friends are so beloved to me and why people sending out emails with his fate in it, before the books even hit the store infuriates me. Why take that love away from people, whether they are five, ninety-five or anywhere else in between?


Some kids won’t be able to afford the books right away and will have to wait for the library copies to come available. Some have only just started the series, some are too young for it yet, but will discover it in years to come. It angers me that malicious people seek to destroy this little bit of magic in a world that could really use some. I know to many it may seem silly to get all worked up over someone revealing the fate of characters in a book or the fate of the characters themselves, but I love books and I want others to be allowed to love them too.


Filed under bad people, books, entertainment, life as a teacher, movie references, my childhood, pet peeves, problems with society, ramblings, what makes me me